Contextualizing Clifton

ST. PETERSBURG - MAY 16: Pitcher Cliff Lee #36 of the Seattle Mariners pitches against the Tampa Bay Rays during the game at Tropicana Field on May 16, 2010 in St. Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)

Lost in the demoralizing start in Seattle that could result in the Mariners going into the Trading Season as "sellers" after spending all Winter as "buyers" is the fact that one of their pick-ups in the off-season is having a historic, if albeit late, start to his season.  After spending the first couple of weeks on the DL, Clifton Phifer Lee has arrived in Seattle and has, through 36 2/3 IP, allowed 1 walk while striking out 32 hitters.

Let's look at that again: 36 2/3 IP, 1 BB, 32 K

For some perspective on this, realize that the highest K/BB ratio in the expansion era (since 1961) is Bret Saberhagen's 11.0 in 1994 as a member of the Mets and Ben Sheets' 2006 season in Milwaukee (10.55 K.BB in only 106 IP) is the only other instance of a pitcher posting a K/BB over 10.  Yet here Lee sits, with 36 2/3 innings under his belt having given up only one free pass.

He's faced 151 hitters to date, giving him an absurd 0.6% BB/PA and an equally absurd 21.2% K/PA rate.  To the 151 hitters he's faced, he's thrown 154 balls and 393 strikes, meaning that he averages 2.60 strikes and 1.02 balls per hitter faced.  Additionally, he has yet to let up a HR, a distinction that he shares with the Dodgers' John Ely among starters who have thrown more than 30 innings this year, meaning that Lee is on a historic pace to limit walks (and pitches), balance those walks against strikeouts, and keep balls struck within the playing field.

While it is just 36 2/3 IP and certainly could just be a statistical anomaly, take a look at the career odyssey traveled by CP Lee since his arrival to Cleveland in 2002:

2002-2006 (Ages 23 to 27)

99 ERA+ in 109 starts, cumulative K/BB of 2.21

2007 (Age 28)

72 ERA+ in 20 games (16 starts), K/BB of a season in which he was sent to the Minors

2008-2009 (Ages 29 to 30)

147 ERA+ in 65 starts, cumulative K/BB of 4.56

And now this, a 32 K/BB ratio entering June (yes, I know he missed a month of the season) and with him perhaps moving onto the trade block again to continue his newfound role as that of a mercenary, likely to find his way onto another playoff contender before eventually settling in as Andy Pettitte's replacement in the Bronx this off-season with old running mate CC Sabathia, whom he's outperformed since the beginning of 2008.

While it can be debated over and over as to what happened that off-season between 2007 and 2008 (Lee directed his anger over his demotion and being left off of the postseason roster at becoming the nastiest SOB that you've ever seen on the mound is one theory), he now finds himself (finally) in his contract year, pitching for the contract that he's earned over the past 2+ years.

Over those 2+ years, Lee has established himself as a legitimate (if legitimately surprising considering where he came from) front-of-the-rotation starter and he's about to get paid like one.  Before he does, however, he'll likely don his 4th uniform in the past 12 months and, in the meantime, chase history while keeping hitters from getting a free pass in what may be one of the only compelling things to watch in Seattle these long as that stay in the Emerald City may be for Lee.

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